Homosexuals Challenge Ban on Blood Donations
(CNSNews.com) - A Red Cross division in Australia will be forced to defend its refusal to accept blood donations from homosexuals after a statutory anti-discrimination body agreed to take up a legal complaint.
Michael Cain wants the state of Tasmania's Anti-Discrimination Commission to find that the Australian Red Cross Blood Service (ARCBS) acted in a discriminatory manner when it refused to take blood from him because he was a sexually active homosexual.
Cain's lawyers argue that by refusing to accept blood from Cain, the ARCBS contravened anti-discrimination legislation passed in Tasmania in 1998.
The law says "a person must not discriminate against another person on the ground of sexual orientation [or] lawful sexual activity."
In a statement about his experience, Cain said he was filling out forms ahead of donating blood when he came to one which asked: "Have you engaged in male-to-male sex in the last 12 months?"
"At this point I felt that I was being personally violated in a way. I couldn't believe that they were asking about sex let alone singling out male-to-male sex when people could easily lie anyway. I answered truthfully."
A Red Cross staffer subsequently told him he could not donate blood, explaining that "gay men have a higher risk of carrying contaminated blood due to unsafe sexual practices."
Cain was upset that he was not given the opportunity to have his blood tested, which he said would have proved that he did not have HIV/AIDS.
"If all blood is tested, there is no reason why I too should not be given the opportunity to prove that I have healthy blood. I resent the fact that I am not allowed to help people in need."
According to its eligibility guidelines, the ARCBS declines any request to donate blood if the prospective donor has, in the previous 12 months, had "male to male sex."
But it will also not take blood within 12 months of other activities considered to increase the level of risk - including a person having had a tattoo, a blood transfusion, a body piercing, been in prison, had sex with a prostitute or having had a partner with hepatitis B or C.
In some cases, such as when a person has injected drugs not prescribed by a doctor, the ARCBS will permanently not accept blood.
In their legal brief, Cain's lawyers said that the ARCBS may try to point out that it is not acting in a discriminatory manner because it also won't take blood in other instances, such as from a person who has been a prison inmate or staffer within the past year.
But there is an important distinction, they argue - "gay men cannot and do not choose to be gay."
In a recent speech, Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group campaigner Rodney Croome attacked the blood donation policy.
"The current gay blood ban says that no matter how careful gay and bisexual men are in guarding themselves from infection, there is still something inherently risky in a man making love to another man," he said.
"This prompts gay and bisexual men to ask, if safe sex isn't good enough to protect public health, is it good enough protect my own health. When it comes to public policy, could there be any greater disincentive for gay and bisexual men to bother with sex safe?"
Peter Stokes, executive director of a Christian ethical action group Salt Shakers, called the case "yet another politically orchestrated attempt to force society to ignore all the clear and undeniable health risks associated with the homosexual lifestyle using a undemocratic government body [the anti-discrimination commission]."
Rather than the ARCBS having to justify its policy, Stokes said he believed the ban should be extended to "all people who engage in promiscuous sexual activity, not just homosexuals."
"This is not about discrimination. This is about \lang3081 discerning what is right and wrong for the majority of Australians according to the evidence," he said, adding that more than 80 percent of HIV/AIDS infections in Australia arise from men having sex with men.
Croome argued in a statement that countries like Spain, Switzerland and Italy have lifted prohibitions on accepting blood donations from homosexuals.
He made no reference to the situation in the U.S., however, where American Red Cross eligibility guidelines appear to be considerably stricter than those in Australia which are now being challenged.
"You should not give blood if you have AIDS or have ever had a positive HIV test, or if you have done something that puts you at risk for becoming infected with HIV," they say.
"You are at risk for getting infected if you ... are a male who has had sexual contact with another male, even once, since 1977."
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